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Vision Trip: Part 1

November 12, 2012

MAF has built into their program the opportunity for families to take a trip to one of the regular locations to which MAF flies and supports.  This is to get a break from home, and a chance to see the rest of the country that one is serving.  For our trip, we went with our good friends Nick and Jocelyn, and Baby Ruth, and Jocelyn’s sister, who was in town for the week, Nicole.  Between the four of them and the four of us, we were equally balanced between Canadian and American.  We decided to do a day trip to Vanga, followed by spending Friday and Saturday night in a small village, called Kikongo.

Vanga is a larger village and is home to the best hospital in all of DR Congo.  It was started as a mission hospital and has grown ever since.  If you’re picturing a hospital in your Western-world neighborhood, stop.  It’s not like that.  It’s still very African, very jungle, but it is the best care one can receive in this country, with people even leaving the city of Kinshasa, and flying the one hour, 40 minute flight to the hospital there!  Our hosts while we were there were a Swiss couple who had taken over the MAF house (MAF’s main Congo base used to be there, before many of the wars in this country).

Kikongo is village of about 1000 people, with only one full-time missionary couple.  Glen and Rita Chapman are very well known through the country and have been in and out of Congo since they were babies (Rita was born here and had most of her children here).  They have been serving in Kikongo since the 90’s.  We stayed in a house that belongs to another missionary family who is currently serving in Kinshasa as the pastor of the international church.  MAF is the only way of supplies in and out of Kikongo.

So, now that you have a bit of background, let’s begin our adventure!  We left at 6am and headed to the airport.  This is how many of Matthew’s workdays begin, so it was fun to be part of his routine.  We dropped off our bags at MAF’s office, got ourselves and the bags weighed, and then headed over to a different office, more like the terminal, to get our documents checked over and our official tickets.  The sticky part was that I could not find Amelia’s passport.  I have no idea where it has gone and am not sure why it would’ve even been separated from the others.  But, we had a photocopy and the fact that she’s so tiny made it less of a big deal.  We waited at the terminal for a while, got our passports checked three times and took a MAF van over to the MAF hanger.  It was my first visit to the hanger, so Matthew took the time to show me around and all the projects he has been working on.  Picture-taking is illegal, so there aren’t any, sorry!

The Port of Kinshasa from the air

Finally we were ready for take-off!  We crammed ourselves, and all of our stuff, plus some other cargo, into a six-turned-five-seater plane, a Cessena 206.  Matthew sat up front with Nick, our pilot.  Jocelyn held Ruth, Nicole held Levi (though he moved up to Matthew’s lap for a lot of the flight), and I held Amelia.  The views were gorgeous, especially once we were out of the city.  It was a sunny day, perfect for flying.  We passed over Kikongo to see if the river that runs by there had any sandbars – it was very high and the Chapmans were curious if there were any to be seen – nope.

Me and Amelia snuggled in the back of the plane

Baby Ruth enjoyed the plane…probably because the pilot is her daddy!

The last twenty minutes of the flight were a little bumpy.  Levi has been known to get a little air sick from time-to-time and started to complain about not feeling well.  The sick bags were out, but not quite fast enough in position.  Amelia was finally asleep and it took all of my focus not to be sick myself.  We landed in Vanga around 9am to music and a large welcoming committee.  Of course, children were lined up behind the fence-line for the excitement.  The music was not for us, though  The Father was returning to the Catholic mission after furlough and was arriving just after we did, but it was fun to be part of his party.  Father Reinhardt was the cutest little old German man you’ve ever seen and LOVES kids.  He landed, with David Francis piloting the tinier 182 MAF plane just a few minutes later, and joined in with the music.  We let Amelia wander the area and Matthew worked on cleaning Levi’s clothes in the sink in the hanger.  We met Nick’s “pineapple lady” – she always sells cheap, ridiculously tasty pineapples and other goodies to the MAF pilots when they land there, which is almost weekly.  She was excited to see the families.

These ladies helped us out of the plane…never mind Amelia’s pout – she just woke up

Father Reinhart dancing with Amelia while the choir in the back sang for him

The kids love the airplane

Drying Levi’s clothes after he got sick

Two MAF planes!

Vanga also acts as a refueling station

After we were ready to go and the plane was settled in for the day, we got a ride with Heinrich and Rosemary, the Swiss missionary couple who would host us for the day.  We went back to the their lovely home, overlooking the river, and learned about their ministry in Vanga.  He is the town’s engineer, which includes keeping the water running and helping with the town’s electricity – generator run for three hours each evening.  We settled in there and Jocelyn stayed behind with two tired little girls while the rest of us headed out to see the town on foot.  We passed a church built over 100 years ago – the mission station in Vanga celebrated 100 years this summer!  We got to the hospital grounds and were given a fantastic tour, in at least four languages, depending on to whom Heinrich was speaking.

The hospital was a beautiful campus, each department in a different building, connected by little trails, some covered walkways.  There were departments of all kinds and we passed by most of them.  In the traditional African way, the rooms all opened outside – there was not a large building filled with rooms like you might think of a Western hospital, but rather individual rooms, connected outside by a covered sidewalk.  In all hospitals here, there are no other services provided expect for medical treatment.  Any food or extra needs must come from friends or family members, so all over the campus are random families, with all of their possessions, like cooking pots and laundry strewn about, drying on bushes and the grass.  There is a nutritional center for special cases of restrictive diets or malnutrition.  A few ladies were showing us their work there, making the food, outside, of course.

The hospital at Vanga…see the laundry drying on the bushes?

Matthew pulling a tired, hot boy toward the pediatric department. Irony?

Cooking at the hospital

The linens for the hospital

Drying the gloves. Yep.

A wheel chair!

This is the guy who designs the hospital’s supplies and prosthetics. He was pretty proud of his leg brace.

Finally we got to my favorite part: the laboratory!  You’ll recall that I spent five years working as a medical lab technician and seeing a third-world lab was definitely on my bucket list.  I saw a small clinic lab here in Kinshasa, but seeing a hospital lab was really fun.  I’ll restrain myself and only say that it is very different than a modern lab, but they use many of the same instruments I used in school: because the principle is always the same in the lab, only the technology has changed.  In this lab, though, supplies are limited, so everything is reused.  Everything.  They did have a small blood bank: a reserve of whole blood, bagged and labeled with type and Rh factor (positive or negative).  They showed us the cross-matching bench for when someone needs a transfusion and the lab director showed me where they do test those specimens for HIV, Hep B, and Hep C.  They had an active little worm under a microscope from a fresh specimen that was a fun treat to see.  I was very excited to have this experience and do wish I could spend some time there to see how they process a typical sample…maybe someday!

The hospital’s blood bank!

Those leaves? That’s a poo sample.

Washing all of the supplies

Drying the beakers. Note: most modern labs don’t use beakers.

After the hospital tour was finished, we headed out toward the engineer center of town.  Much of the work in Vanga is carried on by brothers, monks, and they do very nice work.  We were able to see the shop, which is the most organized and well-built shop Matthew has ever seen – he said so himself.  The brothers also have a friendly monkey.  Awesome!

Heinrich’s shop

On our way back to the house for lunch, we went by way of the market.  They had all sorts of local foods and every sort of supply you could need.  It is mostly the same things we have in the local markets in Kinshasa, but on a smaller scale, and with grass and mud huts!

I love this. These ladies are tough!

A road in Vanga

Traditional housing in Vanga

The market in Vanga

Overlooking the river on the outskirts of Vanga

We arrived back at the house for a ridiculously tasty lunch of local cuisine, similar foods as in Kinshasa, but so much tastier grown in the jungle!  Beef in a tomato sauce, with rice and bitekuteku (I know I’m behind on my food series…I’ll be more specific on local foods in that).  Local coffee and fruit for dessert finished off a great meal.  Even the kids did great, though they were getting pretty tired.  Amelia had a great time staying behind, especially when Rosemary took her outside to see the baby chickens!

Heinrich and Rosemary’s beautiful home!

Their backyard and guest hut

“Pilot” Matthew in front of Heinrich and Rosemary’s house

We hung out, rested a bit, then piled back in the truck headed for the airplane.  Levi’s wet clothes had dried and we rearranged the seating chart a bit, then took off (over a goat that was eating lunch at the end of the runway) for our final stop for the weekend: Kikongo!

Part 2 is next…

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Lee Ward permalink
    November 12, 2012 0829

    Sounds like you had a great visit. I have been a patient at the Vanga Hospital at least once, and have flow through Vanga several times.

  2. Nic permalink
    November 12, 2012 0829

    This is so fascinating!!!

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